Lauterbach: Take care with transplanting seedlings

Special to The Idaho StatesmanMarch 21, 2014 

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Now we're approaching a critical time in the life of your tender seedlings. Transplant them into larger containers, but not huge pots or boxes. It's easy to think you'll save on work if you transplant from tiny to a gallon pot, but don't be tempted. That transplant to much bigger pot usually results in dead seedlings.

If you have a thicket of very tiny seedlings because the seed had been soot-like, they're very tough to separate. The best way to handle them is to use manicure scissors and cut pathways through the thicket. All tiny seedlings die after losing leaves to scissors, leaving more isolated seedlings that can be separated for transplant.

When winds aren't blowing, set your new seedlings outside in dappled shade for an hour, and increase that time each day, then move them into early morning or late afternoon sun for gradually-increasing times. This is called "hardening-off," or acclimating. You can cut days off this process if there's a drizzly overcast day on which to transplant. If you don't have a rainproof slicker, buy one.

Why must we gradually expose plants to nature? Seedlings grown indoors, in sunlight filtered through glass or plastic doesn't receive the full spectrum of light that unfiltered sun has. Seedlings exposed abruptly to direct sun will die, the sun bleaching chlorophyll out of leaves, leaving them white and limp.

Seeds contain an embryo and enough food to get the plant to root and form primary leaves, at least, and from then on, true leaves take over, actually building the plant. Roots take up water and nutrients, and the chlorophyll in primary leaves and developing true leaves use water, carbon dioxide from the air and sunlight to make carbohydrate food for the plant. Plants have it all over the ancient alchemists who tried to turn lead into gold. Chlorphyll, sunlight, water and nutrients even build the mightiest of trees.

WAR ON SQUASH BUGS

An organic farmer on a recent webinar said squash bugs much preferred Hubbard squash plants. They would also lay eggs on other varieties growing near, but they clearly preferred Hubbard. You could grow it as a trap crop, trying to kill squash bugs on that plant, or just hope they leave other squash varieties alone until harvest. A trap crop must be planted near your protected one.

Some say marigolds repel squash bugs. I'll try that too. I'm going to grow unusual radishes among the winter squash as well, because I did have a good crop two years ago after growing radishes among winter squash. I will continue to use Neem sprays on egg clusters and nymphs.

In frustration I've used my homemade slug spray (50 percent water, 50 percent household ammonia) on adult squash bugs. They really run from it, and I have found dead adult squash bugs later in that area. I have no evidence, though, linking the deaths to my spray.

AGRETTI DID WELL

Great news for fans of Italian food. I grew a dense patch of Agretti last year, and let it go to seed. Agretti seeds have a notoriously short period of viability, but self-seeding works, even in our rather harsh recent winter.

Some parts of this valley, and even some parts of each yard, are warmer and more sheltered than others. We call those differences microclimates.

I know a friend in Garden City saw her cutting celery survive winter and pop back this spring. In my garden in South Boise, my spinach and Chinese cabbage, both planted late in fall, were severely damaged by our cold temperatures, even under protective cover. In the North End, Stella Schneider lost her kale and collards to the severity of winter, but her Agretti self-seeded too.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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